Grammy winner Billy Strings took the stage on Saturday night to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd at The Factory in Deep Ellum. The 28-year-old Michigan native was named Artist of the Year in 2021 by the International Blue Grass Music Association, which also awarded him their second Guitarist of the Year award. Strings can also add to his coat a 2021 Grammy Award win for Best Bluegrass Album, for which he was nominated for the second year in a row as well as a nomination for Best American Roots Performance.
Some call his playing style “bluegrass heavy metal”. Although Strings got his start in music playing metal, he won the comparison for his custom of shredding on the acoustic guitar and not for his sound. His live set-up is pretty standard for a bluegrass band with Strings on acoustic guitar, Jarrod Walker on mandolin, Royal Masat on double bass and Billy Faliing on banjo. The whole group also lends detailed harmonies. Although they served many traditional and catchy tunes, Strings took traditional sound to new heights, incorporating their love of rock music. The result is the sensation of hearing more instruments than there are on stage. The fact that there was no drums probably escaped the crowds as the instruments do the job.
The hall was filled with spontaneous dancing among the audience, and even some of the staff joined in. Strings and his quartet matched their energy – and then passed it.
Much like a jam group, Strings played two sets of 12 songs plus a double encore. Every night his song list changes dramatically, so no two Billy Strings shows are the same. The group kept their energy going, diving into an occasional ballad, mixing originals, covers and traditional songs, including six songs from String’s 2021 release. Renewal.
Earlier this year at famed Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, Strings starred as “Jerry Garcia” in Grateful Dead drummer Billy and the Kids’ side project Billy and the Kids, and to honor the Dead, Strings a added a few tracks from the band to their live rotation of award-winning original material.
The guitarist also surprised the crowd with a guest appearance by fellow North Texas outlaw Paul Cauthen, who had just finished his set in the room next to the Studio at the Factory and which he performed. also supported by donning a Paul Cauthen hat. Cauthen sang back-up to Merle Haggard’s tune “Mama Tried”, which is also a Dead staple, and vocals and guitar on The Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”.
The crowd was a good representation of Dallas: a mix of cowboys, hippies and yuppies all falling fantastically into the jam. At the top of the show, Strings implored the audience, “Hope you have a good time!”
And they did. Strings’ power to unite disparate cultures through music grows with each performance, as does its legend.